Shine and Inspire asks those it helps to 'pay it forward'

The nonprofit group wants to know 'if we help you to shine, what would that inspire you to do?'

Courtesy of Shine and Inspire
Carol Feldman (left), the founder of Shine and Inspire, is joined by Vivian Dembrosky, a supporter of the nonprofit group, at a recent event.

Carol Feldman had long wanted to launch a nonprofit organization. She was also struck by television shows detailing home makeovers and other acts of philanthropy. She wanted to find her own way to give back.

A few years ago, Ms. Feldman’s ambition became reality when she founded Shine and Inspire, a charity with the mission of meeting the needs of those living in Mercer County, N.J. But beyond providing some form of help, she wanted to make sure that the chain of good deeds would continue.

“We wanted people to pay it forward somehow,” she says. “I am big on random acts of kindness.”

“Paying it forward” refers to a popular novel and feature film. Feldman says that she was not aware of the phrase when she was brainstorming about Shine and Inspire.

Rather, she conceived of the organization as essentially posing a question to its would-be beneficiaries: “if we help you to shine, what would that inspire you to do?”

Shine and Inspire is open-ended about the kind of support it provides, but it encourages those who seek assistance to ask for something that will make a difference in their lives. Then these applicants are asked to tell how they would pay that gift forward.

“We want to have a sense that [what the recipient does] is going to be continuing for a period of time,” she says “I want them to know the feeling of helping someone else.”

One recent beneficiary was in need of a motorized chair scooter after knee surgery had left her unable to walk. Medicare wouldn’t help. Shine and Inspire stepped in and purchased the Trenton, N.J., resident a scooter, allowing her to regain her mobility and freedom.

To help pay forward the gift, last summer the recipient launched a seven-week craft project for children who live in her building.

Another recent Shine and Inspire client, a young mother of three children, asked for a bed for her youngest daughter.

“We have bought a number of beds,” Feldman says, adding that often she is able to work with other nonprofit organizations to purchase things like furniture or bedding.

In order to pay forward the gift of a bed, the mother – a former employee in an assisted living facility – has begun visiting facility residents when they are hospitalized to ensure that they are not alone during their hospital stay.

So far Shine and Inspire has provided support to 15 clients across the county, as well as made donations to food pantries and other social service organizations.

Shine and Inspire has active partnerships with other nonprofits and is seeking out others. Those groups send potential clients to Feldman.

Regardless of how applicants find Shine and Inspire, a pair of volunteers meets with each to discuss their need and the ways in which they plan to pay it forward. The latter component can vary greatly, from stocking food pantry shelves to helping the homeless.

“There are a lot of different things,” Feldman says. “It is really their creativity.”

Feldman runs Shine and Inspire with the help of four other unpaid volunteers. She hopes to expand its reach and bring in a paid staff member.

While it requires a balancing act to manage both her professional practice as a clinical social worker and her volunteer work with Shine and Inspire, Feldman wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It is just who I am,” she says. “I have always liked doing things for other people.”

• For more information about Shine and Inspire, visit ShineandInspire.org.

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